In Moonfall, the moon is a hollow “megastructure” that very nearly crash-lands into Earth (getting close enough to scrape a few mountain tops) before course-correcting back to its proper orbit. It is the exact same moon-crash disaster epic that director Roland Emmerich would have made in 1998 had the script crossed his desk then, except with fewer movie stars filling out the ensemble cast; only Halle Berry & a brief Donald Sutherland cameo pass the Would Emmerich Have Cast Them in the 1990s? test. As a genre, the over-the-top, over-budgeted CGI spectacle has continued past the 90s in the respective movie industries of India, China, and Korea, but Emmerich’s distinctly retro charms only recall pictures from its Hollywood heyday: Armageddon, Mission to Mars, The Matrix, Contact, Deep Impact and, of course, Emmerich’s own Independence Day. Everything from the film’s shameless Lexus product placement to its astronaut hero’s anxieties over being an absent father are so distinctly 90s that it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’ve already seen half of it before on TBS, intercut with hours of commercial breaks and an unplanned afternoon nap.
Well, maybe not everything here would’ve made its way into the 90s version of Moonfall. Game of Thrones‘s John Bradley is assigned the thankless task of modernizing the falling-moon disaster premise with some 2020s internet lingo. Bradley plays a conspiracy theorist blogger & YouTuber, a self-proclaimed “megastructurist”. We are told he is very smart, as he is the first civilian to deduce that the moon is crashing into Earth and that it is not a natural moon at all, but rather an alien-made megastructure. Since he’s a cat-meme nerd who asks the question “What would Elon do?” for self-motivation, however, I retain that he is, in fact, very dumb. Halle Berry & Patrick Wilson’s heroic NASA defectors agree with that assessment, and continue to poke fun at his absurd, idiotic conspiracy theories about moon lasers & the moon’s hollow core long after he’s been proven correct. They’re right to do so. Moonfall‘s premise is absurd & idiotic, and it was only written to set up the CGI spectacle of the film’s final act (where, spoilers, the mismatched trio stop the moon from falling). Thankfully, in the process it also sets up some beautifully asinine dialogue exchanges about the peculiar nature of our megastructure moon, a few of which I will transcribe below for your reading pleasure:
“You’re telling me that the moon was effectively the biggest cover-up in human history?”
“I told you! The moon was built by aliens.”
“You are the key to our moon’s knowledge.”
“We scanned your consciousness; you’re part of the moon now.”
Between Moonfall & Ambulance, it’s been a big year for vintage vulgar auteurs pretending it’s still the 1990s. Michael Bay at least updated his schtick with modern drone camera tech; Emmerich simply stuck to his basics while committing to the biggest goofball premise he could find. Sometimes, that nostalgia for Hollywood’s knucklehead disaster-epic past feels like a deliberate intent of the script, which laments several times that all of NASA’s moon shuttles are collecting dust in museums instead of standing by to heroically save the day (in case, you know, the moon decides to fall). It’s much more likely, though, that Moonfall is just the Emmerich production machine on autopilot. Any byproduct nostalgia is an incidental result of how that rusty content mill differs from the MCU and Fast & Furious empires that have taken its place in the past couple decades. Neither Emmerich nor Bay put in their career-best work this year, but there is still something reassuring about watching them do their usual thing in a post-superhero Hollywood. All we need now is for Jerry Bruckheimer to produce a big-budget swashbuckler about the recovery of Atlantis to complete the cycle.